Our Lewis and Clark journey begins – with a brief detour through 1946

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Published: August 25th 2023

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We arose early this morning to start our real trek through the Lewis and Clark past, only to realize that we still had to decide what to do with the old guy we “rescued” from Camp Dubois. We found him asleep outside his room. He had arisen early in the morning and gone outside to reconnoiter, become confused by the street traffic, and attempted to return to safety, only to discover that he did not know how to access entry to his room. We went to breakfast with him at our side. Over breakfast we gradually became convinced that he might be who he said he was, and at his earnest request, decided to take him with us. He was certainly entertaining enough.

Our first stop was the Daniel Boone Home Historic Site near Defiance MO. Boone was one of the legendary frontiersman of the 1700’s, fighting Indians, exploring new lands, and famous for laying out there Wilderness Road through Cumberland Gap, opening up Kentucky to settlement. In addition to serving in the Army in the Revolutionary War, he fought other fights against various Indian tribes, but also lived as a tribe member with the Shawnees for a time. He

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served in the Virginia legislature. With the opening of Kentucky, he became a land speculator there, but the Virginia legislature, in order to accommodate more wealthy land-grabbers, changed the laws and he lost some of his land from changes in the survey laws and was forced to sell others to pay the higher taxes the legislature adopted. Always more comfortable in the woods than the halls of commerce and legislation, he set out further west, and established a homestead outside of the United States, in what is now Charles County MO. There, the Spanish governor made him the local syndic (judge) and military leader. He received large land grants, lost them when the territory became part of the US, and regained them. During the Revolutionary War he served under William Clark’s older brother, George Rogers Clark. By the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition, he had been made famous by a book published in 1754. Despite his frontier knowledge and fame and the connection to William Clark, the L&C expedition never contacted him as they passed nearby. Meredith told us it just never occurred to them to go 15 miles out of their way to see him.

Although

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some dispute this, there is evidence that he made a last 2000 mile trip up the Missouri as far as the Yellowstone River in 1810. In 1820, he died peacefully surrounded by family at his son’s home on Femme Osage Creek MO. He was buried next to his wife Rebecca, who had died several year earlier.

Both to wait for the river to thaw, and for the legal turnover of the Louisiana Territory to the US, the expedition was unable to set off until May 14, 1804. They traveled up as far as St. Charles, which they reached on May 16. There, they were finally joined on May 20 by Lewis, who had spent most of the winter in St. Louis finding means and supplies for the journey. Meriwether told us, “I got a lot of good-natured ribbing about spending the winter in the parties and other inducements of St. Louis while they were fighting frostbite just to bring in firewood at Camp Dubois. Truth be told, there was some element of fact in what they were saying, but I really did have to spend the time in the city to get all the supplies we needed. We took

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seven tons of food, plus trade goods, gunpowder, shot, a blacksmith shop, guns, medical supplies. I must have had a couple of pounds of those thunderclappers. We had to have surveying and navigation instruments, knives, hatchets, axes. My biggest mistake was that iron boat frame I had built in Pennsylvania. Never worked worth a tinker’s dam. I had to arrange to get all that stuff to St. Charles, where we took 4 days to re-pack the boats, before finally setting off upriver on May 20. And it was pretty rough going, particularly at first. We could sometimes get a favorable wind and use sails to go upriver, but more commonly we had to use poles to push the pirogues, and haul the keelboat by long ropes. We hired men who were very fit for the journey, but I don’t think they knew just how hard it would be. It took 20 men to tow the keelboat, and even then we sometimes had to row or pole it along. Sandbars were a constant menace. And things were not much better on shore. I nearly fell to my death at Tavern Cave. Luckily I was able to dig my knife into a

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crevice in the rock and hold on.” The old guy sure seemed to know a lot about the journey for someone we had presumed to be a homeless bum.

The company consisted of the two captains, 3 sergeants, and 38 men. Also included was William Clark’s lifelong slave York, the only enslaved person on the journey, and one who proved invaluable.

At Arrow Rock State Historic Site the exhibits include a full-size replica of the keelboat the expedition used. Arrow Rock was not in any way notable when the Corps of Discovery passed here around June 1. It later became an important riverboat landing site, and was at the start of the Santa Fe Trail. The trail to the riverside sites was closed, so we viewed the visitor center exhibits and departed.

Unrelated to our Lewis and Clark journey, we decided to stop by Fulton MO, where at Westminster College Winston Churchill delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech. The Potsdam Conference in July-August 1945 had been the occasion for the Russians and British and Americans to make plans for the administration of post-war Europe. The Germans had signed their surrender on May 8 1945. Franklin Roosevelt had

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felt that Stalin could be trusted, but had died in April. Truman was much less trusting of the Soviet strongman. During the conference, Britain held general elections. Tired of the war and looking for a new way forward, the British overwhelmingly re-elected Churchill in his own district, but gave a landslide victory in the overall election to the Labour Party, with its promises of a National Health Service and government-subsidized full employment. Churchill, much saddened and in dubious health at age 71, took a long painting vacation in France, and the Potsdam Conference was suspended for two days to allow his successor, Clement Atlee, to arrive. Although claiming to be a socialist in many ways, Atlee was also suspicious of Stalin. Amusing anecdote: Truman, speaking of Atlee, once told Churchill “He struck me as a modest man”. “Indeed”, quipped Churchill, “he has much to be modest about.”

In early 1946 small Westminster College in Fulton MO extended an invitation to Churchill to come and receive an honorary degree and give a speech. To the bottom of the invitation, President Truman appended “This is a wonderful school in my home state. If you come, I will introduce you. Hope you

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can do it.” Churchill, feeling left out of events, jumped at the chance to appear on the same stage with Truman. On March 5 1946 he delivered a speech entitled “Sinews of Peace”, but which has since become known as the Iron Curtain speech. “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of all the ancient states of central and Eastern Europe.” He then laid out the increasing pressure on these states from Moscow, stated the “special relationship” between Great Britain and the United States, defined what would become known as the Cold War, and laid out a plan for dealing with it. The speech was masterful. It rejuvenated Churchill, and in 1951 he again became Prime Minister.

The museum commemorating the speech at Westminster College is called America’s National Winston Churchill Museum. It sits underneath a Christopher Wren designed church which the college salvaged from London, had transported to the US, and then painstakingly reassembled stone by stone. The museum houses a nice collection of Churchill memorabilia, including a very nice collection of some of his paintings. For those who are

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unaware of it, he was actually a talented painter. The lectern from which he delivered the famous speech is carefully preserved behind plexiglass.

After leaving St. Charles, the company proceeded upriver, growing increasingly in command of their boats. They continued to be hampered by sandbars and snags, one of which nearly capsized the keelboat. They arrived at a campsite near present day Ft. Leavenworth KS on July 1 1804. We had hoped to see Ft. Osage as we made our own way to Ft. Leavenworth, but the lateness of the hour meant that it was closed. Our impromptu stop at Fulton had derailed that particular plan.

We arrived at Leavenworth, checked into our lodging, and went to dinner.

One word about the Ft. Leavenworth Frontier Army Museum: DO

One word about Leavenworth the town: DON”T


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